To Edmund Pendleton
RC (LC: Madison Papers).
Philada. Jany. 22d. 1782
The post having not yet come in I have not the pleasure of acknowledg[in]g yours which I make no doubt he brings for me.1
Congress2 are much occupied & perplexed at present with the case of Vermont. The pretensions of that settlement to the character of an independt. State, with the grounds on which they are made & the countenance given them by Congress are I presume pretty well known to you. It has long been contended that an explicit acknowledgment of that Character and the admission of them into the federal Union was an act both of Justice & policy.3 The discovery made through several channels & particularly by the intercepted letters of Ld. G. Germaine4 added such force to the latter of these considerations that in the course of last summer preliminary overtures were made on the part of Congress for taking them into the confederation, containing as one condition on the part of Vermont that they sd. contract their claims within the bounds to which they were originally confined, & guaranting to N.Y. & N.H. all the territory without those bounds to which their encroachments had been extended. Instead of complying with this condition they have gone on in their encroachments both on the N.Y. & N.H. sides & there is at this moment every symtom of approaching hostility with each of them.5 In this delicate crisis the interposition of Congress is again called for, & indeed seems to be indispensable; but whether in the way of military coercion, or a renewal of former overtures, or by making the first a condition of a refusal of the last, is not so unanimously decided. Indeed with several members & I may say States in Congress a want of power either to decide on their independence or to open the door of the confederacy to them is utterly disclaimd,6 besides which the danger of the precedent,7 & the preponderancy it wd. give to the Eastern scale deserve serious consideration.8 These reasons nevertheless can only prevail when the alternative contains fewer evils. It is very unhappy that such plausible pretexts if not necessary occasions of assuming power should occur. Nothing is more distressing to those who have a due respect for the constitutional modifications of power than to be obliged to decide on them.9
We have nothing fresh from Europe. We are informed by the way of N.Y. that the Earl of Dunmore has arrived at Charleston to claim from Earl Cornwallis the fulfilment of his promise. No individual[s] in his Suite are named.10
I am Dr Sir Yr Sincere friend & hbl servt
Js. Madison Jr.
We have fresh & indubitable confirmations of the apostasy of Deane from the Independence of his Country11
1. Insofar as the editors have been able to determine, Pendleton’s next letter to JM after the one of 31 December 1781 was that of 28 January 1782 (q.v.).
2. Late in life JM, or someone at his direction, bracketed all of the letter from the opening of this paragraph through the next to last paragraph, thereby designating the portion to be published (Madison, Papers [Gilpin ed.] description begins Henry D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison (3 vols.; Washington, 1840). description ends , I, 109–11).
3. For the congressional background of this controversy during 1781, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 223–24; 225, n. 11; 309, n. 4.
5. JM probably gleaned his information from several sources—resolutions of the New York legislature presented to Congress on 5 December, evidence arriving a week later from Thomas Chittenden, “Governor of the State of Vermont,” documents received on 18 December from President Meshech Weare of New Hampshire, and papers sent by Governor George Clinton of New York and laid before Congress on 31 December 1781. Upon the arrival of the Weare dossier, Congress referred it and the other papers on the Vermont crisis (and later the many more received from Clinton) to a committee with Daniel Carroll as its chairman and Joseph Jones as one of the other three members (NA: PCC, No. 40, II, fols. 105–17, 119, 123, 137–39, 173; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 1159–60, 1166 n., 1179 n., 1185 n., 1190 n.). In Hugh Hastings and J. A. Holden, eds., Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York … (10 vols.; Albany and New York, 1899–1914), VII, 484–632, passim, are copies of many documents dating in November and December 1781, describing the highly explosive situation and purporting to supply incontrovertible proof of “a Treasonable Intercourse between the Leaders of the usurped Government on the [New Hampshire] Grants and the Enemy” (ibid., VII, 624).
6. Here JM refers to the report of the Carroll committee, not mentioned in the printed journal but laid before Congress on 7 January, first debated three days later and heatedly discussed on several other occasions both before and after the date of JM’s letter (NA: PCC, No. 40, II, 241–45; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 291, 294–95). The committee’s recommendations were equivalent to an ultimatum. They reaffirmed the boundaries of Vermont as defined by Congress on 21 August 1781 and summarily rejected by the governor and legislature of the self-styled “independent State of Vermont” about three months later (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 225, n. 11). According to the committee’s recommendations, Congress should dispatch a commissioner to Vermont authorized to pledge that, if the inhabitants accepted the boundaries specified, appointed delegates to Congress, and ratified the Articles of Confederation, Congress would recognize Vermont (if that was the name which the people preferred) as “a free Sovereign & Independent State.” On the other hand, if the Vermonters rejected the offer or expressed no opinion about it before a date fixed by the commissioner, they must “utterly disclaim all pretensions to Independence” and peaceably submit to the jurisdiction of New Hampshire or New York, depending upon the place of residence of each inhabitant and how the territory should eventually be divided between those two states. Should they refuse to do this, Congress would conclude that they had “hostile designs against the United States” and hence must be subdued by continental troops, whose commander, by imposing “martial law,” would “bring to condign punishment such as prove refractory.”
Apparently unwilling either to accept or reject this report, but of a mind to make it less belligerent in tone and to delay a decision upon so delicate a matter as long as possible, Congress softened the recommendations and committed them on 28 January to a “grand committee,” upon which each state had one delegate, including Edmund Randolph for Virginia. Samuel Livermore of New Hampshire was the chairman. Jonas Fay and Ira Allen, the agents of Vermont, returned to Philadelphia about two days later after five months’ absence (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 57–60, 66, n. 1; NA: PCC, No. 40, II, 207; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 297–98). See JM to Pendleton, 7 February 1782.
7. See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 87; III, 226, n. 13.
8. Writing here as a southerner, JM assumes that the attention given by Congress to the legitimate needs of his section will decline in direct proportion to the number of northern states admitted to the Confederation. Within two decades he would find Vermont, unlike the rest of New England, usually controlled by Jeffersonian Republicans rather than by Federalists.
9. Although obviously in a constitutional quandary, JM appears in these three sentences to favor an assumption by Congress of undelegated powers, if consonant with the general welfare, if not merely for partisan or sectional advantage, and if a greater evil would clearly result from an inflexible adherence to state sovereignty.
10. Although the Pennsylvania Journal of 19 January 1782 included a report that the Earl of Dunmore, along with troop reinforcements from Great Britain, had reached Charleston late in December, Congress first read the news officially on 22 January in a letter written by General William Heath eight days earlier (NA: PCC, No. 157, fols. 439–40). With the blessing of Lord Germain, Dunmore had embarked about the time of Cornwallis’ surrender to resume the governorship of the province of Virginia, from which the rebels had ousted him in 1776. The document, if any, containing Cornwallis’ “promise,” presumably to restore Dunmore to his office, has not been found. See Pennsylvania Packet, 29 January and 23 April 1782; William Emmett O’Donnell, The Chevalier de La Luzerne, French Minister to the United States, 1779–1784 (Bruges, 1938), p. 213, n. 108; Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (16 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , VIII, 329. On the other hand, when Cornwallis was about to invade Virginia, he expressed the hope that he would be able “to possess the country sufficiently to overturn the Rebel government” (Charles Ross, ed., Correspondence of Charles, First Marquis Cornwallis [3 vols.; London, 1859], I, 87). Dunmore’s aim evoked much humorous comment in the Virginia Gazette description begins Virginia Gazette, or, the American Advertiser (Richmond, James Hayes, 1781–86). description ends . After labeling his return to the United States “a laughable circumstance,” the issue of 26 January continues, “As he seems, however, to be unwilling to come among us for the purposes for which he was sent out, it will be well for him if his masters, the British ministers, do not avail themselves of the circumstances, and strike him off for neglect of duty.” On 9 February 1782 the Virginia Gazette, and Weekly Advertiser notes that Dunmore “brought out with him, his charriot and horses, servants, and a large pack of hounds, in order to enjoy all the pleasures that the conquered state of Virginia could afford him.”
11. See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 301–2; 303, n. 7; 328–29. On 17 January 1782 Congress listened to two letters allegedly written by Silas Deane in Paris in September 1781 to friends in Connecticut and intercepted in France. Finding that these two dispatches “contained matters injurious to the public,” Congress referred them for authentication to the secretary for foreign affairs. If he concluded that they were what they purported to be, he was authorized to send certified copies of them to the governor of Connecticut and, at the secretary’s discretion, other copies or extracts from the letters to Robert Morris, superintendent of finance, to La Luzerne, and to the envoys of the United States in France and Spain (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 37–38). On 19 January 1782 JM was named to a committee, with Daniel Carroll as its chairman, to consider a resolution which directed that the powers of Thomas Barclay, the American consul in France, “so far as they relate to the settlement of the accounts” of Deane, be revoked and that Robert Morris order “Deane to repair to Philadelphia with his accounts and vouchers against the United States in order that they may be there liquidated and settled” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 39–40, and 40, n. 1). If this committee ever reported, Congress must have adopted a greatly altered resolution. Deane remained abroad and, as late as 3 April 1784, wrote to one of his brothers, “Mr Barclay the Consul has been with Me, examining my Accts, for some time, but his Instructions are so drawn up, that every thing, any way doubtful, must be referred to Congress” (Collections of the Connecticut Historical Society, XXIII , 198). For the background of “the apostasy of Deane,” see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 303, n. 7.